Downton Abbey extra teaches St Albans students about First World War

A FIRST World War expert who has been an extra on hit ITV show Downton Abbey has visited a St Albans secondary school to take pupils back in time to the Great War, ahead of last weekend’s Remembrance Day services.

Richard Knight, who runs educational programmes and has undertaken advisory work on films, spent half a day with Year 9 history students at Beaumont School, Oakwood Drive.

They learned about local soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War.

Pupils used census documents and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website to identify some of the 640-plus men that St Albans lost as a result of the conflict and to get a picture of their lives before they joined up.

Richard brought the harsh reality of life for a soldier into the classroom and helped students build up a mental picture of what life in the trenches was like.

The 13 and 14 year olds handled and tried on an array of uniforms, weapons and other items – from greatcoats that soaked up the mud like sponges to gas masks and grenades.

The students also watched a video about Harry Patch, the last British survivor of the First World War trenches, who died in 2009 at the age of 111.

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Some of the pupils made a memorial tree to honour the local soldiers they had identified through their research.

Students said afterwards that they gained an appreciation of those who had sacrificed themselves for future generations, and the lesson had prompted them to quiz family members about their relatives.

They also looked around St Albans for evidence of family members or the soldier they had researched on local wall plaques and the War Memorial in the centre of the city.